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Cablegate: Climate Change - Guangzhou Still Not Feeling the Heat

VZCZCXRO6933
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH
DE RUEHGZ #0630/01 3170912
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 130912Z NOV 09
FM AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1092
INFO RUEHGZ/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE 0337
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0871
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 0271
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0272
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0281
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC 0022
RHMFISS/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC 0036
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC 0200
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC 0320
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC 0316
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 GUANGZHOU 000630

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/PA, AND EAP/PD
STATE FOR EAP/CM, OES, AND EB
STATE PASS EPA
BEIJING FOR ESTH AND ENERGY REPS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV PGOV PREL ECPS CH
SUBJECT: CLIMATE CHANGE - GUANGZHOU STILL NOT FEELING THE HEAT

1. (SBU) Summary: A trio of obstacles -- public indifference, media
apathy and government double-speak -- seem to be making it more
difficult for climate change issues to gain traction in this south
China megacity. According to local newspaper reporters, Guangzhou
residents are largely unaware of and uninterested in the underlying
causes or potentially disastrous impacts of climate change. Media
coverage is limited to publicizing the results of highly technical
scientific reports, rebroadcasting generic official statements
calling for greater action on climate change, or dissemination of
government propaganda that blames developed countries for the
climate change problem. Cooperation between U.S. and Chinese
environment and meteorology experts on joint research projects and
local forums and workshops provide good opportunities for climate
change reporting, according to journalists. Joint training programs
and information exchange could also strengthen capacity for climate
change reporting and understanding in both countries. End Summary.

----------------------------- --------------------
TEMPERATURES RISING BUT LEVEL OF CONCERN STILL LOW
----------------------------- --------------------

2. (SBU) Reporters from three local newspapers agreed at a recent
meeting with ESTHoff that overall public awareness in Guangzhou
regarding climate change is low. While many residents are vaguely
aware that global temperatures are rising, few understand or are
concerned about the underlying causes or projected impacts of
climate change, according to Zhao Anran (protect) of the Information
Times. Even when residents are exposed to reports describing
climate change disaster scenarios, few link these reports to their
daily lives or feel pressure to change lifestyle habits. A reporter
from Guangzhou Daily added that most residents are primarily
concerned with issues that have immediate relevance to their
individual economic situation and are relatively uninterested in
broader less direct long-term "public interest" issues like climate
change.

--------------------- --------------------------------
MEDIA UNDERSTAND ROLE BUT COVERAGE IS LINKED TO DEMAND
--------------------- --------------------------------

3. (SBU) The bulk of local media coverage of climate change issues
can be divided into two categories, according to Zhu Yong of
Southern Metropolis Daily. One is the effort to make public the
results of highly technical scientific reports on different aspects
of climate change, which due to their technical nature are
inaccessible for the average reader. The second category of
coverage consists of broadcasting "soft calls" made by government
officials to encourage greater action on climate change, appeals
which one reporter characterized as "empty words that bore the
public." (Comment: A third category not mentioned by the
journalists consists of government propaganda aimed at evading
responsibility for reducing carbon emissions and assigning blame for
climate change almost exclusively to the U.S. and other developed
countries. End Comment.)

4. (SBU) Convincing the media of their critical role in increasing
climate change awareness is not the challenge, according to a
reporter from the Guangzhou Daily. The real difficulty is
overcoming low levels of public interest in seemingly remote climate
change issues like melting glaciers and polar ice caps. Zhao added
that most residents are primarily concerned with economic conditions
or social welfare issues that affect them on a daily basis, which
translates into high demand for media coverage on these topics. So
long as readers remain primarily interested in economic and social
issues with immediate relevance, climate change issues will receive
relatively little attention, the reporters said.

5. (SBU) In light of these obstacles, all three journalists
highlighted the need for creativity in making climate change issues
interesting to the average reader. As an example, one reporter
pointed to an article recently printed on the front page of the
Guangzhou Daily that tells the story of an underwater meeting held
by the Maldives' president and cabinet to push for a stronger
climate change agreement in Copenhagen. This type of story,
according to the reporter, catches the public interest and at the

GUANGZHOU 00000630 002 OF 002


same time gets out an important message about the urgency of the
climate change issue. The reporter added that Hollywood should make
more movies like "The Day After Tomorrow" to draw the public's
attention to the potential catastrophic consequences of inaction on
climate change. (Comment: Although the reporters claimed to be
cognizant of the media's role in raising public awareness, quips
about Hollywood movies and comments about the irrelevance of climate
change issues suggests the reporters did not see it as their
responsibility to increase the public's understanding of the urgency
of the climate change issue. End Comment.)

-------------------------------- -------------------------
COOPERATION, JOINT RESEARCH GOOD MATERIAL FOR NEWS STORIES
-------------------------------- -------------------------

6. (SBU) "Media report the news and any reporting done on climate
change needs to be linked to a news item." This line was repeated
several times by journalists at the meeting. When asked what would
qualify as climate change "news," Zhu of Southern Metropolis said
that cooperation between U.S. and Chinese environment or meteorology
experts on a joint research project would be one example of a
newsworthy item. A locally-hosted forum on a given climate change
topic would also provide journalists with the opportunity to report
on climate change issues, according to Zhu.

--------------------------------- -------------------
TRAINING AND INFORMATION EXCHANGE WOULD BE BENEFICIAL
--------------------------------- -------------------

7. (SBU) Low demand for climate change reporting translates into a
lack of specialized knowledge on climate change topics for many
local reporters. Journalists in Guangzhou acknowledged that joint
training workshops and information exchanges with foreign media
would help them improve their climate change reporting skills. One
of the reporters added that a recent workshop on the links between
climate change and public health, hosted for the media as part of
the Climate Cool program at the British Council, had been
particularly useful. (Note: In a recent meeting with June Zhong,
Program Manager for Climate Cool, Zhong said that the program
sponsored media forums on climate change topics on a quarterly
basis. Recent forums covered topics such as low carbon development,
climate change and international negotiation, and sustainable
energy. End Note.)

8. (SBU) Comment: According to the Paris Declaration on Broadcast
Media and Climate Change, public awareness of the need for urgent
action on climate change is the lynchpin of international efforts to
mitigate its negative impacts, and the media plays a critical role
in raising overall awareness and stimulating policy debate on
options for mitigation and adaptation. Increased collaboration
between U.S. and Chinese media professionals -- e.g., joint training
on the technical aspects of climate change or exchanging best
practices for making climate change issues relevant to people with
different education levels and cultural backgrounds -- would
increase capacity for quality climate change reporting on both
sides. At the same time, U.S. efforts to foster greater cooperation
between media professionals in both countries would tangibly
demonstrate our commitment to working together with China to combat
climate change by tackling the challenge of public awareness while
also promoting greater understanding and, ideally, acceptance of
U.S. policies. End Comment.

GOLDBECK

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